The other her looked at Ana with wide, quizzical eyes, expecting, Ana thought, to see some shred of greatness there. Ana leaned back against the counter, pressing her palms, still soapy with disinfectant, into the scuffed laminate. The few patrons in the diner were staring. The old man who’d sent his coffee back twice because it was “too cold” now drank the scalding liquid with renewed fervor. He wanted to see how this would play out.
Ana pushed off the counter with the heels of her hands. Careful not to touch the other her, she skirted around the bar stools and strode with forced ease to the other side. She was happy to be behind the counter where no one could see her knees knock. She pushed the rag to the side, mopping up stray bubbles of disinfectant, and slapped the rag over the side of the plastic bucket. She reached into the pocket of her apron and pulled out a pad and pencil. She flipped to a fresh sheet.
“Can I get you anything?” she asked her other self.
The other her shook her head. “No,” she said. “I just wanted to see you.”
She didn’t sound quite like Ana. Her voice had a different pitch – higher, Ana thought – the consequence of different choices. Maybe her mother hadn’t smoked like Ana’s had. Ana had a sudden urge to meet her other mother, something she had not thought about since the second Earth had been discovered, floating listlessly in that faraway section of space.
Ana rubbed her hands on her faded jeans. The cheap ring Scotty had picked up from a pawnshop the day they found out she was pregnant caught on a tear in the seam.
The jeans hadn’t been new for years. Ana had spotted them in a department store when she was 16. She and her only friend Mikaela had crammed into the dressing room to ogle at the way the pants fit her round hips and short legs. Ana’s abuela had always loved the way Ana took after her mother but growing up in the white suburbs Ana had wished she had looked like her dad and sister: pale and skinny like a lollipop stick. Mikaela lent Ana her sweatpants to wear over the jeans. They walked out of the department store, Mikaela in Ana’s Goodwill slacks, while Ana’s armpits wetted with fear.
She was sweating now. Her deodorant stick had broken this morning and she had had to use Scotty’s. She hoped she didn’t smell like a man. The other her smelled like old woman’s soap. Ana wondered if her other self had showered at her abuela’s that morning. The sudden thought that her abuela may be alive on Earth II made Ana’s stomach clench.
“Can I at least get you some coffee?” Ana asked. She was being rude. She didn’t quite understand why.
“Sure,” the other her said. “That would be nice.”
She talked like a white person. Ana grabbed a mug of dubious cleanliness and sat it down in front of the other her. She poured thick, black coffee up to the rim. “Is that a fresh pot?” the old man in the booth asked. The mother at the table by the window gasped at his boldness and turned to stare at her reflection in the dark glass. Outside, cars rushed by in blissful ignorance along the highway.
“No,” Ana said. She sat the pot back on the burner.
“I’ll take a refill anyway,” the man said. Ana stared at him. He was grinning. He was proud of the way he had inserted himself into her private moment. Ana poured coffee into a new cup and stuck it in the microwave. She punched two minutes into the machine.
Across the diner, the mother was watching Ana in the reflection of the window, scolding her child for staring. He was a freckled boy with sandy hair. He had turned himself around in his seat and gaped through the slats in the chair. Ana turned back to her other self.
“So,” Ana said. “What do you want?”
The other her looked down at her untouched coffee. She spread her fingers on the counter. “I don’t know,” she said. “I want… to know you.”
Ana scratched her head. She wanted to know her, too. All the mistakes her other self had or hadn’t made. She wondered what she had done during 7 minutes in Heaven with Jeremy Ekkerd or if she had worn white jeans the day she got her period in tenth grade. She wanted to know who she was when she had the chance to be someone else. Without meaning to, Ana rested her hands on the growing bump under her apron.
Her other self looked up at her and shook her head. “I’m sorry,” she said. “This was a mistake.”
The other her stood up to leave. “That’s $1.99 for the coffee,” Ana blurted.
Ana’s other self stared at her. Maybe they don’t have dollars where she’s from, Ana thought. She began to panic. Maybe everything was different there. Maybe George Washington and his band of merry rebels had never flipped England the bird. Maybe her world dealt in gold still or something completely foreign to Ana.
The other Ana reached into her pocket and pulled out a few crumbled bills. She placed two on the counter. George Washington’s bored, stoic expression stared up at “I’ll get you your change,” Ana said. She pressed a few buttons on the register. The drawer spit open.
“That’s alright,” the other her said. “Thank you for this.” She walked out the door. The chiming of the bell as the door slammed closed brought a hand to the mother’s mouth. The woman clenched her eyes shut and started to shake. Ana rushed around the counter and outside into the parking lot. She looked up at the sky, expecting some sort of spaceship to be hovering over the neon sign announcing their 24/7 open guarantee, but above there was only darkness.
Ana wiped warm rain off of her face and squinted at the cars rushing passed on the highway. She must be then the other her had found the other Scotty somehow.
Ana wiped her hands on her damp, stolen jeans, turned, and with hand on her growing child, re-entered the diner where growing child, re-entered the diner where her life was waiting.